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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
There is in Genesis 5: 22 a phrase I like very much: “Enoch walked with God.” Would you tell me, in practical terms, the meaning of that phrase?
Sometimes when we are exploring the meaning of a particular expression, it helps if we examine the usage of similar ones. By comparing and contrasting expressions or phrases, the particular nuance of each one surfaces. In the Bible there are several employments of the verb “walk” when describing the relationship with God and humans.
One can walk before the Lord (e.g., Gen. 17:1; 48:15). The idea is one with which we are well acquainted in our family relationships. Parents with children who are still too young to walk by themselves but who want some independence are placed by the parents before them when they go for a walk. The purpose is to protect them, to be able to anticipate any danger ahead and keep them in the safety of the way. The expression “to walk before God” is a dynamic way of describing God’s providential care for us.
God, like a good parent, wants to keep His eyes on us, leading us safely in our lives (Gen. 48:15; Ps. 56:13). This happens as we walk blamelessly (Gen. 17:1) in full commitment to him, in faithfulness (firmness of life), in righteousness (submission to God’s will), and in uprightness (rectitude) of heart (1 Kings 3:6).
One can also walk behind/follow after the Lord. This phrase may have originated in the context of pagan processions. On special occasions the idol was taken from its temple and carried by the priests as the people walked behind it, praising and worshiping it. The Old Testament uses this phrase most of the time in speeches or commands condemning idolatry (Deut. 6:14; Jer. 2:23). When applied to God, it recognizes Him as the exclusive object of worship. Love for Him is the motivating force (Jer. 2:2), and it expresses itself in obedience to His will (1 Kings 14:8; 2 Kings 23:3).
Walking with God expresses intimacy, friendship, companionship. The individual is no longer walking before or behind Him, but with Him; by His side.
Mystics have told us that this walk with God takes place in contemplative meditation as we separate ourselves from the world around us. This is certainly not what the biblical phrase means. It was in the realization of his daily tasks that Enoch walked with God. In fact, we are told that he walked with God after having children (Gen. 5:22). And Noah walked with God while building the ark (Gen. 6:9). Our walk with Him takes place in the home, the street, the workplace—everywhere we go. The phrase describes Him as our travel companion.
Walking with God presupposes the existence of a road, a way. The Bible has much to say about “the way of the Lord.” It designates a particular type of life ruled by the loving power of God. His instructions define and identify the road He wants us to travel (Deut. 8:6). That road is His, and to walk on it is to walk with Him. In the New Testament this road becomes a living one, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). He is the embodiment of God’s will for His followers, the way.
Before closing let me point out a concept in those expressions that is so obvious that it can be easily overlooked: God walks! He is a dynamic person constantly involved in the lives of His creatures. It is because He walks that we can walk with Him.
Let’s look briefly at the first time the Bible says that God walks: Genesis 3:8. This passage describes God as walking alone while humans are described as unable to walk, that is, hiding themselves among the trees of the garden. In fact, they even look like trees; they are covered by leaves (verse 7). Trees cannot walk. Humans had abandoned the way of the Lord and become spiritually paralyzed.
The God who walks went out seeking humans and granting them the possibility of walking again with Him. Walking with God presupposes that there was a redemptive encounter between God and us, and that we were enabled by Him to join Him in His walk. This God did for us through Christ.
Now we can listen to the prophet: “What does the Lord require of you! . . . To walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).